Najia Yarkhan, Student Volunteer
It was the beginning of our last semester at the University of Illinois, and with that came the Agricultural and Biological Engineering senior design course, taught by Professor Stephen Zahos. We had the obvious options of the projects dealing with agriculture and bioprocesses, typically for larger companies that would be expected in this course. However, one specific project caught my attention, as it was different from the rest.
It was for Compatible Technology International (CTI), a nonprofit based out of Minnesota that designs and distributes innovative tools that help families in the developing world rise above hunger and poverty. This project specifically targeted optimizing the Elton (left) and Mounir (right) breadfruit shredders. The shredders allow for the utilization of breadfruit, an abundant local crop in Haiti (and other countries with a similar climate) that spoils within 1-3 days of ripening. A process of shredding, grinding and drying the breadfruit allows for it to be utilized by the communities.
CTI’s human centered approach to solving problems and the social nature of this project made it stand out as both a unique and rewarding learning experience. Upon being assigned the project, a team of five of my peers (Anne Cederoth, Melissa Rios-Chavez, Richard Li, Vincent Tio, and Guannan Wang) and I set out to optimize the shredders for CTI.
We went through background documents that ranged from information about breadfruit to information about the target market. We had weekly meetings and tons of back and forth communication with CTI to continue to refine the results we were delivering. And we conducted extensive RPM, productivity, and ease of operation testing on both shredders.
Based on these steps, the team shifted the focus to the Elton shredder. In our opinion, it was the simpler, more productive design. It better took into account concepts of Human Centered Design and was better equipped for the end user’s needs. Ideas were generated for this optimization with the more concentrated goals of reducing cost, reducing the number of parts, simplifying ease of use, simplifying ease of cleaning, simplifying the overall design, and increasing durability.
Our team’s design, shown above, took the concepts of the Elton Shredder and built upon them. Parts were rearranged to separate removable and fixed parts and a hinged door was added for simpler blade removal for cleaning. The frame was updated to be more stable and taller so a chute would not be required to keep the shredded fruit falling in a straight line. The flywheel was changed to a solid mass that could be housed within the frame, and the blade support was flattened to further simplify cleaning.
This design also took into account the use of casting molds for large-scale production. Cost estimates were conducted using aPriori software, yielding a fully burdened cost of producing 100 shredders at $135 each, which was near the cost goals we had set. We believe this is a viable solution for CTI’s breadfruit shredders and hope to see it in reality one day.
Our team could not have asked for a more valuable senior design experience. Not only were each of us able to delve into something we did not previously know and learn along the way, but we also received incredible guidance from the staff at CTI and Prof. Zahos. The most rewarding part of all of this, though, was knowing the entire time that we were innovating technology to make a real difference in people’s lives.
Najia Yarkhan attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an Agricultural and Biological Engineering major, with a Biological concentration. She now lives in San Francisco, working in education technology and pursuing her goals in social entrepreneurship.”